We had a day of school off today, but not because of snow. But it was a Central American equivalent of one: protests and strikes. The public bus drivers are on strike because they want more money. Jess and I don’t use the bus, so it was really no real loss to us. The only thing missing for us was the noise their engines make and the sqeaks, honks, twitters, and squeals their horns make. It’s been a much quieter city the last two days. However, some of the city hasn’t been as quiet, as the protests have resulted in some buses being lit on fire.
Here’s an article in English describing the situation; the original article can be accessed here.
Bus Strike Strands Thousands
Written by La Prensa
Thursday, 19 June 2008
One person was injured, two arrested and thousands left stranded at bus stops yesterday after the Movimiento de Bases Transportistas y Usuarios called a strike. The Union has demanded a increase of 40 cents in bus fares and a freeze on fuel prices and tolls on the Corredor Norte and Corredor Sur.
Bus passenger Alfredo Perea suffered first and second degree burns to his face after the bus he was riding caught fire. Union members have blamed the incident on a Policia Nacional officer, who, in turn, accused the bus driver.
The incident occurred within meters of the Autoridad de Tránsito y Transporte Terrestre (ATTT) headquarters in Pedregal, where bus drivers blocked the road to demand the release of fellow drivers Juan Sanjur Rodríguez and Toribio Rodríguez. Both had been arrested during the protests.
In the La Doña shopping center, in the community of 24 de Diciembre, bus drivers on the Panama Este routes clashed with drivers on the Panamá Viejo routes, who had broken the strike and were providing service to 24 de Diciembre. Passengers were forced to get off the buses.
Members of a dissident branch of the Cámara Nacional del Transporte pledged to extend the strike another 48 hours, after reporting a 96 percent success rate among bus drivers during the first day.
Of the capital’s major bus routes, only those serving parts of Pedregal and Torrijos-Carter were operating at full capacity.
“We want the government to withdraw the draft for the transportation bill,” said Viterbo Velásquez of the Cooperativa de Transporte San Cristibal, which represents 37 routes in the area.
“The strike will not end until President Martín Torrijos meets with the [unions] or announces publicly that the Transmóvil won’t go through,” said Mariano González, a leader for the Movimiento.
President Torrijos issued a statement from Colón, in which he said he hoped that the strike hadn’t been motivated by “politics and partisan ambitions.” He said that channels for dialogue have always been open, and that his commitment for a more efficient public transportation system “remains firm.”